How to Cook Sweet Potatoes
on Oct 28, 2020, Updated Dec 20, 2023
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Everything you need to know about cooking with sweet potatoes, including how to make the perfect baked sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes are an incredibly popular root vegetable, and for good reason — these orange-colored tubers are genuinely sweeter than their white or pale yellow cousins. Baked on their own, they are a treat, and when added to recipes, they provide an earthy, subtle sweetness to all kinds of dishes. From Crispy Baked Sweet Potato Fries with a side of Chipotle Mayo to Sweet Potato Casserole (with or without marshmallows), sweet potatoes turn into delicious sides.
Table of Contents
- What Are Sweet Potatoes?
- What Do Sweet Potatoes Look Like?
- What Do Sweet Potatoes Taste Like?
- Sweet Potato Substitutes
- Where to Find and How to Choose Sweet Potatoes
- How to Prepare and Cook With Sweet Potatoes
- How to Store Sweet Potatoes
- 12 Sweet Potato Recipes
- Baked Sweet Potatoes
- How to Bake Sweet Potatoes Recipe
What Are Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are large, starchy, sweet-tasting root vegetables. They are a member of the tuber family and grow underground, with their leaves and shoots sometimes eaten as greens. As their name indicates, sweet potatoes are, in fact, sweeter than regular potatoes — sometimes just a bit, sometimes very pronounced. Different varieties have different levels of sweetness.
What Do Sweet Potatoes Look Like?
Sweet potatoes are often long and tapered, though they can also be fat. While we are most familiar with sweet potatoes that have a copper-brown skin color and bright orange flesh, sweet potatoes can actually come in a variety of colored skin and flesh tones. More specialty sweet potatoes might be yellow, red, purple, or white on the outside and white or purple on the inside.
You can also find baby sweet potatoes, which are literally just smaller versions of the larger potato. They are fun for roasting whole and serving split down the middle with butter. These mini versions may make more sense as a side dish than a large roasted sweet potato.
How to Cook Sweet Potatoes: Everything you need to know to choose, store, and cook sweet potatoes!Tweet This
While the names are sometimes used interchangeably, there are differences between a sweet potato and a yam. Yams are actually from a different species, and they are generally larger, starchier, and drier than sweet potatoes. They also are often not as sweet. With that said, they can often be used interchangeably in recipes.
Sweet potatoes are available year-round, but their peak season falls between October through December.
Luckily for us all, they’re seriously nutritious. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene, which converts to Vitamin A in your body and is critical to a healthy immune system, vision, and gut health. They also contain high levels of Vitamin C and potassium, with lesser quantities of fiber and other antioxidants, which may help protect against certain cancers (via Healthline).
What Do Sweet Potatoes Taste Like?
Their name advertises the flavor! Simply put, sweet potatoes have a unique combination of special starches and sugars, and as they cook, enzymes break down the starches into simpler and sweeter sugars. All this creates a distinctly sweet flavor. The flesh of sweet potatoes tends also to be very creamy and rich.
Sweet Potato Substitutes
Sweet potatoes can really be used in all the ways you would think to use any of their sister potatoes, so think about subbing them into your favorite potato recipes for a change of pace.
Where to Find and How to Choose Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are readily available and carried in most grocery stores year-round, located right near the other potatoes and onions in the produce section.
The best sweet potatoes are the small to medium ones, which are sweet and creamy. Larger ones tend to be starchier. They should be firm and free of bruises or breaks, and their skin should be smooth. Go for the ones with darker skins, as these are richer in the antioxidant beta-carotene.
How to Prepare and Cook With Sweet Potatoes
In general, you should always wash potatoes before cooking with them. (Do not wash potatoes before storing them, as moisture tends to make them spoil quicker.)
After that, the preparation all depends on how you intend to use your taters. Keep the skin on, or peel the skin off, depending on preference or the recipe. Like other potatoes, sweet potatoes can be sliced, diced, julienned, cubed, cooked in chunks or whole.
Baking and roasting are probably the best ways to cook sweet potatoes. Whole baked or roasted sweet potatoes need no more prep than piercing them through a few times with a skewer or fork and baking them like you would an all-purpose potato.
But beyond baking them whole, sweet potatoes can be cut up and cooked in a lot of ways, such as baking, roasting, sautéing, steaming, boiling, or frying. Cooked potatoes can also be pureed or mashed and even turned into soup.
Cubed or wedged potatoes are amazing when seasoned and roasted alongside other vegetables. Julienned fried or baked sweet potatoes are fantastic alternatives to regular French fries. Boiling and mashing produce sweet potato mashed potatoes with loads of flavor and depth. You can also blend up a combo of mashed russet and sweet potatoes for a nice best-of-both-worlds situation.
How to Store Sweet Potatoes
For best results, store raw sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place. Be sure to avoid any direct sunlight, or you’ll soon see some serious sprouts coming out of your sweet potatoes! Don’t wash them before storing, but brush off any big clumps of dirt. Like this, they can last for at least a month. Sweet potatoes tend to mold faster if washed before being stored. Also, don’t refrigerate them which also can escalate spoilage.
Once cut, they can be stored in an airtight container for a few days before cooking with them, or they can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 12 months.
12 Sweet Potato Recipes
Here are some recipes that use sweet potatoes.
Baked Sweet Potatoes
The perfect baked sweet potato is a wonderful cold weather side, and while it takes an hour in the oven, there is basically no hands-on time. If you want to bake the sweet potatoes and get a super crispy skin, you can rub the sweet potatoes with olive oil before baking. If you rubbed the potatoes with olive oil, place a baking sheet on the rack below the potatoes to catch any drips.
Season the skin and the inside with salt after baking, regardless of what other toppings or fillings you pick. You can also bake smaller sweet potatoes; just reduce the cooking time.
How to Bake Sweet Potatoes
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- Olive oil (optional)
- Butter, sour cream, salt (optional; to serve)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Scrub the sweet potatoes, dry them, and use a small sharp knife to remove any dark brown or greenish spots, or “eyes.” Use a fork, a skewer, or a thin, sharp knife to poke several holes all around the potatoes. Brush the potatoes with olive oil if you're looking for an extra crispy skin.
- Bake the potatoes directly on the oven rack for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, until a thin, sharp knife slides easily into the potato. If you rubbed the potatoes with olive oil, place a baking sheet on the rack below the potatoes to catch any drips.
- Let it cool for a couple of minutes, then take a knife and slit the potato right down the middle. Give it a squeeze, spread it open, and use a fork to loosen up the insides a bit.
- Top as you like — with butter, sour cream, salt — or go for something more adventurous!
- Season the skin and the inside with salt after baking, regardless of what other toppings or fillings you pick.
- If you rubbed the potatoes with olive oil, place a baking sheet on the rack below the potatoes to catch any drips.